a brief oral commentary by Kyabje Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche
Ever since the time of the meeting of the three masters, Khenpo Shatarakshita, Lopon Padmasambhava and the Dharma King, Trison Detsen in 8th century Tibet, there were two divisions of sangha, known as the sangha of monastics with shaven-heads and the saffron robes (rab byung ngur smig gi sde) and the sangha of ngakpas with white clothes and long, plaited hair (gos dkar lcang lo’I sde).
In the upper and lower regions of Kham, these ngakpas are known as ‘amnyes’ (a myes). In the district of Ngari, they are called ‘jopas’ (jo pa) and in provinces such as U and Tsang, they are called ‘ngakchangs’ (sngags ‘chang). In Bhutan, Sikkhim and other bordering kingdoms, these practitioners are known as ‘serkhyimpas.’
The sovereignty of both sanghas was equal during the reign of the Dharma King Trisong Detsen (790-858). This is clearly indicated in historical accounts. Moreover, during the reign of King Ralpachen (813-836), the monarch weaved silk into two ends of his matted hair as a sublime object of offering and requested that both sanghas sit and walk back and forth upon it. This appears in all of the reliable sources of monarchy annals.
In these historical accounts, there were four different jopa practitioners who worked to reverse adverse conditions for the Dharma kings of Tod Guge and Gungthang. Similarly, in lower Nangchen and Dege, it is known that there were four different great lamas at the center of the region, four ministers in the middle of the region and four amnyes in the low part of the valley, working for the Dharma Kings.
These ngakpas performed the three esoteric ‘do’ rituals in places where earth and sky form a triangular shape like a ham khung. When there are many indications that obstructing forces such as gods and demons are hindering the practice of those in a particular place, then yogis with sharpness, swiftness and the ability to enact wrathful activity are extremely beneficial.
In Central Tibet, during the reign of Drogon Chogyel Phakpa (1235-1280), it is said that there were four great ngakpas in the four directions of Drogon Tsang. In the time of the Great 5th Dalai Lama (1617-1682), there were also four ngakchangs who controlled the four directions of serkhang. These ngakpas performed healing and obstacles reversing ceremonies, rituals that were performed by ngakpas only.
Furthermore, it is ngakpas who would preside over the activity rituals related to the seven types of transgressors (nyams pa bdun) including beings who contradict the Buddha’s teachings, beings who have broken their samaya commitments, enemies of the Three Jewels, Personal enemies of the teacher, the ten enemies to be destroyed and antagonistic protector beings. Through the activities of destruction, the rituals of suppression, burning and throwing, the violators’ form and aggregates are completely annihilated and reduced to particles of dust, so that not even so much as their name remains. Then, their consciousnesses are liberated into the dharmadhatu.
(The Activity of Suppression:) The offending enemies and hindrances are first commanded and invoked but the power of the Three Truths. Once summoned, they are bound through mudra and then forced nine levels underground, unable to re-emerge.
(The Activity of Burning:) In the same way, the hindrance being is summoned through the power of the truth and bound by mudra. Then, they are destroyed through the method of Me Lha.
(The Activity of Throwing:) Alternatively, after they have been summoned and bound, their forms are bound to the torma effigy, which is then thrown.
The method used to destroy dreaded foes of the Buddhist doctrine, Dharma people and especially, beings that threaten the Lama, is great compassion. This is accomplished by joining skillful activity with the three aspects of clear visualization. Through these wrathful activities, the continuum of unwholesome karma is cut through and the offending being is places in a state of permanent bliss. Ngakpas are known for these three methods of suppressing, burning and throwing: these are their primary daily activities.
The Magical Weapon Activities
The magical weapon activities of reversal can be classified into divisions of nine types of reversal, seven reversals, one reversal and so forth. The nine magical weapons of reversal include the mantra weapon (thunn zor), the stone weapon (rdo zor), the blood weapon (khrak zor), phung zor, the thorn weapon (tsher zor), the white mustard seed weapon (yung zor), the arrow weapon (mda zor), the torma weapon (gtor zor) and the poison weapon (gug zor).
There is one magical weapon that is sufficient for all purposes – the horn of wrathful revelry (kro bo rol ba’I rwa zor). This horn should be the right horn of a drong, or the right horn of a yak from the southern Tibetan jungle, ‘Kyilgyi Sin.’ If one cannot obtain such a shorn, one may use the right horn of an ordinary yak, the right horn of a dzo, or the right horn of an ox. According to the teachings of the Inner Tantras, one fills the horn with poisons]], blood and a variety of other sorcery substances and then the substances are thrown.
There are two types of blood: poisonous blood and mixed blood. Poisonous blood is a mixture of three black poisons: tsenduk nakpo, tharnu nakpa and bongwa chen nakpo. it is best if one can obtain all three. If all three cannot be acquired, it is necessary to have at least one of them. These poisons grow in rocky ravines, gorges and other places that are not reached by the sun’s rays.
Mixed blood includes the heart-blood of a warrior killed in hand-to-hand combat. If this cannot be obtained, one must acquire the heart blood of a person who has been killed by one of three things – an arrow, knife or spear. This combined with the mixture of three poisons is called mixed blood. This is needed for effigy rituals and the magical weapon activities of the horn.
In any case, it is absolutely necessary that those who perform these activities manifest signs of accomplishment of the approach, accomplishment and activity stages of the Three Roots sadhana. One must actually have the power to first summon the ten types of obstructing beings, liberate them and finally, lead them to pure realms. One must be a Tantric master.
There are two types of ngakpas – those of family lineage (rigs rgyud) and those of Dharma lineage (chos rgyud). Ngakpa family lineages are passed from father ngakpa to their sons from generation to generation. At present, these are family lineage holders such as the great lamas of the Nyingma tradition, Minling Trichen Rinpoche and Sakya Trinzin Rinpoche, the throne holder of the Dharma Potrang lineage.
There are Dharma lineage nagakpas in both the Nyingma and Sarma traditions. Since one may enter the Tantric mandala by receiving empowerment, scriptural authorization and practical instructions from a qualified Lama, it is not necessary to be born into a ngakpa family lineage. Once one has properly received these transmissions, one must authentically enter into the sadhana practices of approach, accomplishment and activity.
Ngakpas such as these allow their hair too remain long and uncut. They dress in simple, white clothes. Their minds reside in the unfabricated, natural state. These are the three aspects of the ngakpa’s non-contrivance (ma bcos rnam gsum gyi sngags pa).
Further, in colloquial language, there is a custom of referring to ngakpas as ‘white,’ ‘black’ and ‘multi-colored.’ Those who rely on alms and essence extraction as food, mystic heat and a single piece of cotton for clothing, and fully integrate their lives with sadhana practice are called ‘white ngakpas.’ Further, those who engage in sadhana practice in solitary retreat for only three months out of the year and perform rituals for lay people are called ‘multi-colored ngakpas.’ Similarly, ngakpas holding the family or Dharma lineages that spend less than seven days in retreat but perform village rites, are known as ‘black village ngakpas.’ These are well known designations in colloquial language.
These days in Tibet, there are only three ngakpa gomdes that are very well known. In the region of Amdo, there are the Rekong (reb kong) ngakpas who generally wear long, matted hair, a multi-colored shawl worm across the shoulder and red clothing. The Vajra Masters of this gompa are similarly attired, although they usually wear a white skirt.
Similarly, at Chakri Phurdrak (chags ri’I phur brag) gomde, a place where there is a spontaneously appearing letter ‘A’ on a rock, the renowned ngakpas who serve the government wear clothing similar to the general ngakpa’s attire described above.
On the border of U and Tsang, in Shang Zabphulung (shangs zab phu lung), there is a community of ngakpas known as ‘Zabphu’ zab phu’ ngakpas. These yogis wear uncut hair, multi-colored shawls and white skirts. There, once one has completed the general practices, the accumulations and purifications of the preliminary practices and has received empowerment, scriptural authorization and practical instructions for Lama Gongdu, one is allowed to wear the white clothing. When I was 27 or 28 years old, I lived at this ngakpa gomde for several years.
Generally speaking, in Tibet, there are many ngakpa gomdes, but one cannot possibly explain in detail the descriptions, histories and so forth of each and every one of them.
Once, on a previous occasion in Dharmsala, India, the Tibetan government office of Dharma affairs organized a five-day event focusing on general and specific aspects of Tibetan religious and secular issues. The sangha of monks, nuns and ngakpas, came together in order to accumulate 100,000 tsog accumulations from Rigdzin Dungdrup of Rigdzin Godem’s Northern Ter.
On that occasion, initially, the ngakpas were belittled and called ‘phagen.’ Although a general order had been issued that the office of religious affairs would provide everyone with five rupees apiece each day, the ngakpas were not given any. The following day, myself and another ngakpa decided that we would go to the feast gathering attired in our white clothing and full nagkpa accouterments and that if we were not shown proper respect and given our money accordingly, we would report the incident directly not only to the Dala’I Lama, but to the media. The next morning, we went as planned. When we arrived at the door of the assembly hall, some officials from the religious affairs department were seated upon stools in the doorway collecting donations. As soon as they saw the two of us, one of them said, “Look! Some handsome looking ngakpas have arrived!” Another one replied, “They are Tso Pema ngakpas.” Subsequently, we received our five rupees without any argument.
It is our own fault that ngakpas are belittled. It is fine for a ngakpa to be a father, but when ngakpas enter the assembly hall and are afraid to sit in the assembly row, then they shave their heads or wear monastic clothing as well as shave their heads, when they wear ordinary chupas and do not dress in the various accouterments of ngakpa attire, this is what happens.
In bordering countries such as Bhutan and Sikkim, there are ngakpas who don’t keep their hair long or wear white skirts. They dress in monk’s clothing, but have wives and are family lineage holders. They are called ‘serkyim’ ngakpas. In Tibet, there are a few gomdes like this, one of them is called ‘Wonpo’ (bdon po). Again, in this place, ngakpas have bald heads and wear informal chupas. They pretend to be ngakpas but they spend their lives doing business and performing rituals for ordinary pursuits, so they are neither ngakpas nor monks. The ordinary chupa is the dress of worldly, lay people.
On a previous occasion, the prince of Sikkim asked me to establish a three-year retreat center. When the appointed retreat master released the retreatants from the retreat boundaries, Chatral Rinpoche came and said that now that the retreat was complete, Sikkim was an extremely sacred practice place of Guru Rinpoche. From then on, if all of the retreatants left their hair uncut and wore ngakpa attire, it would be auspiciously beneficial to the country. He told the prince not to remain a bachelor and that he should find a kind-hearted consort. His instructions were very clear.
The ultimate Dharma lineage and the ngakpa family lineage, the beings who are the extraordinary holders of the practice lineage teachings, the great Vidyadharas of India as well as the sublime Tibetan masters of the kama and terma traditions who possess the three virtuous qualities of knowledge, love and power transcend the possibility of expression and cannot be written about here.
Furthermore, the seventh samaya vow precludes revealing secret teachings to sentient beings that are not completely mature. Thus, the secret mantra vehicle is called so because it is secret. The secret mantra teachings are without fault and must accordingly remain secret to beings that are unsuitable vessels or have wrong view. There are indeed many hidden yogis and yoginis who have mastered the practices of the Tantric classes of the superior Vajrayana and have accomplished the two-fold siddhis.
Colophon: This brief account of the white-skirt, long-haired ngakpas was given at the request of a few Dharma friends who hold the name ngakpa, especially the ngakpa lineage holder, Tenzin Samphel and the French woman, Kechog Zangmo.
Based on the understanding, awareness and experience of Kunzang Dorje, a ngakpa of the Horja family lineage, this brief ngakpa history was written in his 70th year, the year of the earth-rabbit, at Tsogyel Gephel Jong, which is in the foothils of Yanglesho, a sacred place of Nepal.
Translated in March 2004 with the support of Lopon P. Ogyan Tanzin.
1 sngags pa General name for ordained Tantric practitioners who are neither monastic, nor lay.
2 ser khyim pa According to Lopon P Ogyan Tanzin, ‘serkhyimpas’ refers to practitioners who wear yellow (ser) monastic clothing, but live as householders (khyimpa).
3 The text lists King Trisong Detsen’s life span as 790-844, but I have chosen to go with the more commonly accepted 790-858.
4 The text lists the reign of Ralpachen as 866-896, but I have chosen to go with the more commonly accepted 813-836.
5 mdos Most important type of ransom ritual used to dispel harm and obstacles caused by the lha, nyen, lu and the eight classes of gods and spirits. (Drung, Deu and Bon, Narrations, Symbolic languages and the Bon tradition in ancient Tibet, p. 77, Namkhai Norbu, Dharmsala, 1995.) These are the rituals of suppression, burning and throwing which are described further into the text.
6 ham khung Also known as ‘brub khung.’ The ham khung is a black, triangular-shaped, iron receptacle used in sacrificial rites. Its function can also be accomplished by any conjunction of three points formed by earth, sky, valleys, rivers, etc., or established points on the ground. (Kyabje Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche, 2002).
7 zhung beu tshang ba’I dgra bo The ten enemies to be destroyed include: 1)beings who damage the doctrine 2)beings who slander the Three Jewels 3)beings who steal the sangha’s possessions 4) beings who slander the Mahayana 5)beings who harm the Lama 6)beings who cause upset to one’s vajra siblings and friends 7)beings who obstruct practice 8)beings who do not rely upon love and compassion 9)samaya violators 10)beings with perverted view of karma and its consequences.
8 bden pa gsum The Three Truths: 1) the absolute truth of transcendence or emptiness 2)the relative truth of temporary phenomena 3)the inseparability of the absolute and relative truths.
9 me lha A deity associated with the fire offering rituals, related to the Hindu fire god, Agni.
10 ling zor Effigy torma to which a harmful being is bound and then thrown as a means of destruction. (Lopon P. Ogyan Tanzin)
11 gsal ba gsum The three aspects of clear visualization related to generationstage meditation which include 1) the clear visualization of the deity’s appearance 2)maintaining the stable pride of the deity 3)recalling the pure, insubstantial qualities of the deity.
12 zor zlog Rituals in which substances or objects are empowered as magical weapons through mantra and visualization, and then used to avert enemies and obstructing forces.
13 thun zor ‘Thun’ refers to the use of mantra as a magical weapon. According to Lopon P. Ogyan Tanzin, it is not necessary to involve a particular sorcery object – the recitation alone is the weapon. According to Norbu (p.257) ‘thun’ refers to the substances themselves, which are first empowered through mantric recitation and then hurled from the wrathful horn in the zor zlog rituals.